Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sometimes it's good to be second

Snow and ice has really been an issue in the United States lately.

I was supposed to have of the second half of February. I didn't want to just sit around so I picked up two long day trips.

The first was last Saturday and went fine. The second was on Monday. I picked it up thinking I wouldn't actually fly. I am a betting man.

The forecast called for ice and snow. The flight was an early morning departure. I bet that the airline would cancel all morning flights due to the weather. My base has limited deicing capability as it doesn't snow much.

My contract states they have until noon the day prior to reassign me if the flight cancels. At 12:01PM if it cancels I am free and clear.

They reassigned me 10 AM on Sunday. The reassignment was a 10:55 AM departure was was just an hour flight each way. I would be paid for the original 6 hours. The kicker? I had a 3 and a half hour sit at a tiny out station before flying back.

I did my research and saw the plane I was to fly back would be overnighting so I wouldn't have to worry too much about being stranded. Fine. There was still a chance the reassignment would cancel.

Monday morning I woke up and checked the cancelled flights. Everything from 6 AM until 11:30 AM was cancelled save for 4 of them my new reassignment. So much for betting.

When I walked into the terminal area it was a ghost town. I expected a mass of passengers from the cancelled flights. Nope. Since they cancelled the day prior the only passengers were those whom slept in the airport or drove in that morning. There was no Captain yet assigned to the flight.

The flight attendant was waiting by the gate. I'd flown with him before. We talked about our "bad" luck. We both agreed that it was pointless to walk down to the aircraft until a Captain had at least been assigned. I checked the other 3 flights scheduled to go out, all were also awaiting Captains.

Thirty minutes prior a Captain was assigned. There was very little activity on the ramp as the majority of the flights had been cancelled.

I was shocked when I walked into the flight deck to find the aircraft powered up AND warm! A mechanic took it upon himself to start up the APU and warm up the aircraft. I thanked him and said it's rare to find employees that care.

We boarded up and blocked out 20 minutes late due to the late arriving reserve Captain.

It took over 30 minutes to deice. In places that get a lot of winter weather I've been deiced in under 8 minutes. Seriously.

Slip sliding down the icey taxiway. Away we went.

Small outstation. They had an ILS, but it was out of service. Normally not an issue. The weather on this day caused it to be an issue as the ceiling was reported at 600, but variable between 400 and 800 and just 2 miles visibility. The minimum altitude for the GPS approach was 600 with 2 miles visibility.

The Captain was flying and briefed the approach. It would be tight.

On vectors. Another RJ identical to ours was first on the approach. I watched them on TCAS. As we turned final I saw the TCAS target begin climbing.

"Hey I think they are going around." I told the Captain. We had approach on COM 1 and tower lower on COM 2. A few seconds later we heard them report a go around on COM 2 as they didn't see the runway, runway lights or airport environment (there are more crtieria, but that's the short version).

They requested the approach lights be turned up. Turns out they weren't turned on at all.

Our turn. The tower confirmed the approach lights were on full intensity.

We leveled at 600 and I saw brief spots of the ground. I peered out the window for the approach lights. Nothing.

Three miles from the runway I saw nothing but white. The VDP (Visual Descent Point) was 1.5 miles from the runway. The VDP is the point where a normal descent can normally be made without any abrupt maneuvers. Trying to land after the VDP normally results in an unstable approach.

Two miles out I saw nothing. We had the fuel for one more attempt before heading to the alternate.

Then I saw the strobes.

"Approach lights in sight, continue." I stated.

"Continuing." said the Captain.

With the lights in sight we can continue to 100 feet above touchdown zone elevation.

About 500 feet or so we saw the runway. In and done.

The other RJ came back around and landed 8 minutes later.

Since we were late we had just a 2 hour sit.

The airport "cafe" isn't set up for real food. All they had were frozen items one could buy and microwave. Ah the life!

We blocked out 18 minutes early. No deicing needed. Quick flight.

Airport operations were busier now. Still an icey ramp. Landed 35 minutes early but due to ramp congestion we blocked in on time.

All in I flew for 2 hours and get paid for 6. I still came out ahead.

Now I really am taking the rest of the month off.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

That was sporty

I've been off a lot this year. Between my work with the Union and being senior.....I haven't spent a lot of time in the flight deck. February is almost over and I project to fly just 25 hours.

A good two weeks was spent on vacation. I took my family to Florida for a week.

We spent 3 days at Universal, 1 day at NASA (where we watched the SpaceX launch scrubbed with 2 minutes left!), 2 days in Clearwater at the beach and two more days in Orlando going to science museums. A long time.

Right now I'm sitting in a hotel in Florida on a 3 day trip. It's a 3-4-1 trip. It was originally a 4 day but I was pulled off the last day for Union work.

Day one started with a 3:50PM report time. I spent the morning taking my car in for a software and hardware update. I love my geeky BMW I3, but it's having minor issues.

Around noon I noticed there was no Captain on my trip. The original Captain couldn't commute in so Crew Scheduling had to find a replacement.

When I signed in for my trip there was a Captain assigned, but he wasn't scheduled to arrive until 10 minutes AFTER scheduled departure time.

I walked onto the plane to see two mechanics in the flight deck and the Flight Attendant sitting in the cabin.

"Whatever broke, I didn't do it!" I said to the mechanics.

"Of course it was you, you RJ pilots are great at breaking stuff....great job security" one of them said jokingly.

They were just there finishing up a periodic check. They were making sure all light bulbs in and out of the plane worked, fluid levels were good and general check up.

I told the Flight Attendant about the tardy Captain. The gate agent came down and we agreed to not board until the Captain actually parks. No reason to have passengers sitting on the plane waiting.

I began setting up the flight deck, printing the release and everything else so once the Captain arrived it would be quick and easy.

Departure time was 4:35PM. He parked at 4:40 PM 20 gates down. Boarding was almost done when he walked on board at 4:55 PM. At 5:04 PM we blocked out. He thanked me for having everything ready to go. He took us out.

Quick up and down flight, just 25 minutes off to on. Quick turn, just 8 passengers for the return leg. Super light weight meant great performance. We reached rotation speed in less than 2000 feet.

Being so close in we were inside the approach corridor. The Approach controllers had nice rows of flights spaced out and we popped up in the middle. He vectored us around, sped up other flights and slowed others down. We merged in. In and done a few minutes late.

That Captain left and another one arrived. He's fairly senior and wasn't happy about being reassigned due to weather. Blocked out a few minutes late. Still my leg.

Headed east we had a 150 knot tailwind at FL370. Zooming.

Being winter I wasn't expecting much in the way of storms. We checked the weather on the release and it mentioned rain but that's it.

Right before I began the descent the controller warned of level 2 returns. What?!?!?! Our on board RADAR showed clear air. Being night we couldn't see much out the windows.

Thankfully there were small holes from cities that gave a hint of  where the weather was. Minor vectoring. The lower we got the more clear the on board RADAR showed the weather.

Weather at the airport was 20014G19KT 10SM BKN036 BKN050 OVC065 19/17 A2980. Landing runway 17 which is 7004 feet long.

I briefed the approach. The controller brought us out a little wide to avoid a cell.

On final we were in moderate rain. I could see the runway 9 miles out. Winds were from 220 and were a stiff 45 knots at 1800 feet.

"The ATIS made no mention of rain. I'm going to plan to use full reverse just in case." I said to the Captain. Our performance flip cards stated I needed just 4000 feet of pavement to stop on dry while 5200 on wet. Neither includes the use of thrust reversers. I like to play it safe.

At 500 feet the winds were still a stiff 30 knots but the rain had let up. I touched down normally just as the gust picked up. Ailerons into the wind with my right hand I put the thrust levers into full reverse. We slowed to taxi speed with 2000 feet left.

Pulling into the gate the rain came in heavily. We had just beat the rain. While nice...I still had to do the postflight.

Today is four legs followed by an 18 hour overnight with one leg in. Wednesday will be a waste of a day in a hotel as I get home at 9PM.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


This site will soon be moving host. So for a day or three it might show unavailable. Sorry for any problems.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Shooooo Bird

I've been quiet lately. It annoys me. Going to try to work on it. I think part of the reason for the lack of post is due to me having mostly day trips in January.

When on a multi-day trip I have a lot of downtime in hotels. With day trips I have downtime at home. At home I have lots of stuff to keep me busy.

Right now I'm on a two day trip.

I was originally headed south of the border. I was fine with it until earlier this week when the Captain changed. The Captain that picked up the trip is known around the airline as hard to work with. I've never flown with him, but I have no desire to entertain working with someone who most pilots don't like.

Instead I traded into another trip that has 2 more legs for the same amount of time. The Captain is a guy I flew with several years ago. Old fashioned and likeable guy.

It's a dreadful 3 and 5 trip worth just 9 hours 15 minutes. He took the first leg this morning. I had the next two.

During my first takeoff roll around 80 knots I saw several birds flying at and angle towards the airplane. Not worth aborting for. I simply said "shoooo birds".....and they moved.

Mostly normal flight. In just the first 15 minutes we were assigned three different arrivals. The final arrival meant a reversal of the airport arrival and departure pattern. The approach controller stated we could slow waaaaay down or expect holding. I slowed down to 250 knots at FL300.

We inched our way in and done.

Quick turn and off to the overnight in the odd state of Louisiana.

Still a vegetarian...still have problems finding places that have vegetarian options.

Google Maps is my friend. I found a greek place that worked for lunch.

Early van. Left early on leg one and arrived early. Leg 2 was back to the airport we just left. Sure enough birds swarmed during the flare. Saw no bird parts or blood on the post flight.

Leg 3 was on time. Once in we had a break for lunch.

For leg 4 I arrived to a wet aircraft. I dropped off my bags and headed out for the preflight. Upon inspecting the nose gear I saw a problem. It looked like blood all around the main gear.....but I wasn't sure.

I headed back up to the flight deck. The Captain was getting settled in. I picked up the logbook and looked for a bird or animal strike entry. Nothing. I did see an entry where a front tire was replaced a week ago.

I told the Captain what I saw and he felt it was best to have a mechanic inspect it.

Boarding started and we waited. Fifteen minutes before departure a mechanic walked up...looked around....then looked up at me with the "What damage" look. I went outside.

As it turns out what I thought was blood...was grease. A lot of grease. The mechanic said when the tire was replaced there was too much grease inserted into the axle. Once everything was finished the extra grease shot out of the side.



Learning lesson for me. Better safe than sorry.

My leg out. Rain and low clouds at the out station. Only a localizer approach.

I have never had so many bird encounters on a trip. The largest swarm of birds yet came into view at around 100 feet. We both thought for sure we'd hit a few. We didn't hear anything but, again to be safe we advised the tower who had airport operations inspect the runway. I did a very detailed post-flight.

Airport operations found nothing. I found nothing as well. Lucky indeed.

Last leg back was totally normal.

Happy to be done.